The Favourite


Off with their heads!

(2018) Comedy (Fox Searchlight) Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, James Smith, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Hoult, Joe Alwyn, Carolyn Saint-Pé, Edward Aczel, John Locke, William Dalby, Anthony Dougall, Emma Delves, Faye Daveney, Jennifer White, LillyRose Stevens, Denise Mack, Everal Walsh, James Melville, Wilson Radjou-Pujalte, Liam Fleming, Jenny Rainsford.  Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

 

Power often trickles down from the top, particularly in monarchies. Back when kings and queens ruled nearly everywhere, it was preferable to be close to the reigning monarch in order to wield enormous power. Often the King or Queen’s right hand funneled the information to the ruler with a decidedly slanted point of view and their influence often dictated policy. In some ways, it’s no different today.

In the era of Queen Anne (Colman) of England, that spot at her right hand was occupied by Sarah Churchill (Weisz), the Duchess of Marlborough. With a war with France raging, Sarah had aligned herself with Minister of Finance Lord Godolphin (Smith) of the Tories who urged higher taxes to pay for the war, which not coincidentally was being waged by the Duke of Marlborough (Gatiss), Sarah’s husband. Opposing this is the Whigs led by Lord Richard Harley (Hoult) who mainly represented rural concerns who felt the greater brunt of the taxes as well as supplying the bulk of soldiers for the front.

While Kensington Palace where the Queen resided was blissfully insulated from the rest of England, into this atmosphere comes Sarah’s cousin Abigail (Stone) who was once a noblewoman who was eventually sold by her wastrel father to pay off gambling debts. Penniless, she hoped to find work in the Palace courtesy of her cousin.

A flare-up of the Queen’s painful and debilitating gout gives Abigail her opportunity to move up the ladder. Smart and resourceful, the new scullery maid knows how to make a concoction that can bring relief to the Queen’s condition. Grateful, Anne brings Abigail into her inner circle, much to Sarah’s consternation. The two cousins are well-aware of the other’s ambitious nature and as the two collide in a battle for the Queen’s affections, both women will stop at nothing to get what they want; Abigail to acquire power and Sarah to retain it.

Director Yorgos Lanthimos has already put together an impressive filmography which includes Dogtooth, The Lobster and The Killing of Sacred Deer – and yes there are lobsters herein, briefly. This is easily his most accessible film to date but that doesn’t make this mainstream. Lanthimos has a habit of making his audience view things in a slightly oddball way, be it through a script that’s oddball or in this particular case, through unusual camera angles and lenses – period pieces as this one is generally tend to use fairly straightforward angles and standard lenses. Here we get Anne gong down a long corridor through a fish-eye lens, causing it to look like she’s rounding a turn or a scene of Abigail sitting against a wall with lush tapestries sitting so still you’d swear she was part of the tableaux.

The main attraction here are the stellar performances of the female leads, all of whom were nominated for Golden Globes with Colman nearly a shoo-in to get a Best Actress Oscar nomination. Both Weisz and Stone have Academy Awards already and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Colman will join them in that exclusive club. Her Anne is strident, a little bit mad, horribly lonely, and oddly vulnerable. She is a figure to be feared but also a figure to be pitied.

Both Abigail and Sarah are conniving, ruthless and devious. Stone and Weisz play them as very similar women but who have different ways of going about things. Sarah is one of the few who can tell the Queen the truth; Abigail is more of a flatterer but appeals to the Queen’s softer side. Both women also use the bedroom to help cement their relationships with the Queen – one of the more questionable facts of the movie which is loosely based on actual events – some historians have complained a bit too loosely but that’s par for the course.

The production design is magnificent and we get a real sense of living in the early 18th century in the mansions and palaces of the court. The costumes are also likely to get an Oscar nomination; the Whigs are foppishly dressed in elaborate powdered wigs and a slathering of make-up, whereas the Tories tend towards more 17th century dress with wigs of natural color and less flamboyant clothes (and no make-up). The look of the movie is as lush as any you’ll see this year.

While the comedy is ultimately fairly black, there is a melancholy that starts to spread into the film late in the second half that is intriguing. Sadly, Lanthimos allows the movie to go on a bit too long, leading to a surreptitious checking of watches by the audience. Some of the intrigue could have been cut back to make the movie a little more zippy.

This is one of the most critically praised movies of the year and anyone who loves the Oscars will need to keep this on their list of must-sees as it is likely to have a fair amount of nominations. A Best Picture nomination isn’t out of the question either, although I found it not quite as entertaining as I would have liked personally. I also found the pacing a little wonky in places and some of the humor too dry for my taste.

There are a few anachronisms, not all of them obvious, but for the most part this is a strong Oscar contender that has three terrific performances, a nice dichotomy of tones and a gilded atmosphere that will delight the eye. As I said, essential viewing for Oscar watchers but perhaps when all is said and done, just short of being an essential film.

REASONS TO GO: The performances by the three leading ladies are all Oscar-worthy and all portraying strong women in their own way. The period is captured nicely with terrific production design and costuming.
REASONS TO STAY: The movie is a little bit overpraised.
FAMILY VALUES: There is lots of sexual content, graphic nudity and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT:  This is the first time Colman has played a British monarch; she will also portray Queen Elizabeth II in the upcoming third season of The Crown, succeeding Claire Foy.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 12/12/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 94% positive reviews. Metacritic: 90/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Madness of King George
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Quake

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New Releases for the Week of December 7, 2018


THE FAVOURITE

(Fox Searchlight) Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone, Mark Gatiss, Nicholas Hoult, John Locke, James Smith, Carolyn Saint-Pé. Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos

During the reign of Queen Anne, two courtiers vie for the position of companion to the frail but mercurial queen; one woman seeking to attain power and return to the aristocracy she was born in, the other trying to retain power. Lanthimos has become a favorite among film cognoscenti with such titles as The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer to his credit.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Enzian Theater

Rating: R (for strong sexual content, nudity and language)

At Eternity’s Gate

(CBS) Willem Dafoe, Rupert Friend, Oscar Isaac, Mads Mikkelsen. The life and times of renowned painter Vincent van Gogh, as taken from his letters, contemporary accounts, gossip and just plain fiction, from director Julien Schnabel who wowed audiences a few years ago with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic content)

Mirai

(GKIDS) Starring the voices of John Cho, Rebecca Hall, Daniel Dae Kim, Victoria Grace. A four year old boy, jealous of the attention his baby sister Mirai is receiving from his parents, storms off into the garden only to meet people from the past, present and future who tell him the incredible story of his family.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website
Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release (Saturday only)
Rating: PG (for thematic elements including some scary images)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

The Appearance
Back Roads
Bennie the Dolphin
Kedarnath
Subramanypuram
Swimming with Men
Three Words to Forever
Weightless

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Asher
Lila’s Book
Narcissister Organ Player
Revival!
Subramanypuram
Three Words to Forever
Twiceland

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

All the Devil’s Men
Bernie the Dolphin
Kedarnath
Subramanypuram

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Kedarnath
Subramanypuram
Three Words to Forever
Wildlife

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Favourite
Swimming with Men

Murder on the Orient Express (2017)


Hercule Poirot is on the job!

(2017) Mystery (20th Century Fox) Kenneth Branagh, Michelle Pfeiffer, Johnny Depp, Daisy Ridley, Josh Gad, Penélope Cruz, Derek Jacobi, Leslie Odom Jr., Sergei Polunin, Lucy Boynton, Marwan Kenzan, Judi Dench, Olivia Colman, Willem Dafoe, Phil Dunster, Miranda Raison, Rami Nasr, Hayat Kamille, Michael Rouse, Hadley Fraser, Kathryn Wilder. Directed by Kenneth Branagh

 

Train travel has a certain romance to it. Strangers trapped in a metal tube, rumbling across the countryside. Anything can happen; anything at all.

Many might be familiar with the classic Agatha Christie novel, one of the most famous mysteries ever written. Some might be familiar with the even more classic 1974 movie based on it which starred such legends as Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, John Gielgud, Sean Connery, Anthony Perkins and Richard Widmark. This new remake stars Kenneth Branagh (who also directed) as the famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot (played by Albert Finney in the original) who is returning to England following a grueling series of cases leading to a successful resolution in Istanbul – not Constantinople.

Taking the Orient Express back home, he is approached by Ratchett (Depp) who is looking for protection after receiving some threatening letters. Poirot, exhausted, turns down the case. The next morning, Ratchett turns up dead. The train is stuck after an avalanche buries the tracks. As crews arrive to dig the tracks out so the train might continue, Poirot must solve the case quickly but there are a number of suspects – everyone in the Calais coach had opportunity and some even had motive. Soon it becomes apparent that the murder has links to a famous unsolved crime of years past.

The Sidney Lumet-directed 1974 version to which this will inevitably be compared was a light-hearted romp with a Poirot who was quirky but undoubtedly a genius. This Poirot is more tortured than quirky, a man who realizes his own obsession with perfection will leave him perpetually disappointed in life and of course he is. This is a different Poirot than any we’ve ever seen onscreen, whether David Suchet of the excellent BBC series or Peter Ustinov of several all-star Christie cinematic adaptations which followed the success of Murder on the Orient Express. The tone here is certainly darker than we’re used to seeing from a Christie adaptation.

Michelle Pfeiffer turns in an extraordinary performance as the predatory divorcee Mrs. Hubbard, portrayed by Bacall back in 1974. While Bacall was loud-mouthed and brassy, Pfeiffer is intense and smart. Once again the characters are very different although there are some recognizable similarities. Pfeiffer twenty years ago was one of the most beautiful women in Hollywood which she remains; that beauty often overshadowed her acting talent which is considerable. Although not in the league of Meryl Streep (who is in a league of her own), she is one of the four or five best American actresses working in film today.

Most of the rest of the cast do at least adequate jobs. Depp is as restrained as he’s been in a decade, playing Ratchett as a thug more so than Widmark did in the same role. Dame Judi Dench is, well, Judi Dench. She brings dignity and a regal air to the role of Princess Dragomiroff. Penélope Cruz has a thanklessly un-glamorous role that she makes her own.

I should mention the cinematography. The 1974 film primarily took place aboard the train. Certainly the Orient Express is the star and cinematographer Haris Zambarloukos takes great pains to present her from every angle conceivable. Occasionally he goes a bit overboard – an overhead shot in one of the train’s cars gives us an uncomfortably long view of the tops of the actors heads – but he also manages to make the snowy Yugoslavian countryside look positively idyllic.

Let me be plain; this film is not as good as the 1974 version and I don’t think Branagh had any illusions that it ever could be. However, it is different than that 1974 version and one that is just as valid. You may not love this film in the same way that you loved the original but there is a good chance you’ll at least respect it. You may even want to see it more than once.

REASONS TO GO: Fans of the 1974 version will find the approach here very different. Branagh and Pfeiffer are outstanding. The cinematography is gorgeous.
REASONS TO STAY: The tone here is much darker than the 1974 version. This isn’t nearly as good as the original which it will inevitably be compared to. You don’t get as good a sense of the era it is supposed to be set in.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some violence as well as violent thematic elements.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The song played over the closing credits was sung by Michelle Pfeiffer and the lyrics written by Branagh.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/20/18: Rotten Tomatoes: 57% positive reviews. Metacritic: 52/100
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Death on the Nile
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Wonder

Locke


Tom Hardy discovers that he can't go home again.

Tom Hardy discovers that he can’t go home again.

(2013) Drama (A24) Tom Hardy. Starring the voices of Olivia Colman, Ruth Wilson, Andrew Scott, Ben Daniels, Tom Holland, Bill Milner, Danny Webb, Alice Lowe, Silas Carson, Lee Ross, Kristy Dillon. Directed by Steven Knight

As we drive from point A to point B, we are in our own insulated little world in our cars, surrounded by other people in their own little worlds. Do you ever wonder what dramas are taking place in those other vehicles, what life and death struggles are happening as our tiny little environments of steel and glass hurtle down the concrete ribbons in the night, each bound for its own private destination.

Ivan Locke (Hardy) is in one such car. He has knocked off of work at a construction site in Birmingham, England where he is the manager of a major project. The next morning is a big day on his job – the pouring of concrete to lay the foundation for the tower he is building. It is going to be one of the largest concrete pours in European history and things have to go just right.

Except Locke won’t be there. He has an errand of his own, a personal one. He is driving from Birmingham to London where a woman is waiting for him in a hospital bed. The woman is not his wife. Rather, his wife and two sons are preparing to watch the local football  team in a crucial match. That’s football as in soccer, by the way. In any case, the boys are excited, mom has bought some sausages to grill up and has even finally consented to wear the team jersey that Ivan bought for her and has been nagging her to wear on game days. But Locke won’t be there either.

During the course of the night he will drive down British highways through varying degrees of rush hour traffic while talking on a hands free mobile phone built into the dashboard of his SUV. He will nursemaid his second in command through the necessary steps of preparing the construction site for the big pour. He will try to explain to his boss why he is acting the way he is, and the same to his wife while trying to at least maintain a veneer of normalcy for his sons. The longer the drive continues, the more that veneer cracks and threatens to fall apart.

This is not your usual sort of drama. Other than the opening scene in which we see other anonymous faceless construction workers leaving the job site, Hardy is the only person we ever see onscreen. He interacts with other actors on the phone, wispy spectral voices that question Ivan’s judgment and even his sanity.

Ivan Locke is a fastidious sort. Respected in his profession, a solid family man, he nevertheless has made a crucial error in his personal life and is now trying to make it right. In his mind at least he’s doing the right thing – viewers may disagree, but Ivan Locke, once his mind is made up, never wavers in his course. It separates him from his father, whom Ivan addresses in the car from time to time even though dear old dad, an alcoholic who abandoned his family, has been dead for some time. Ivan has never forgiven him however; he would love to dig up dear old dad just to desecrate his bones.

Hardy is best known for playing the masked terrorist Bane in The Dark Knight Rises. There he is behind a mask with his voice electronically modulated but still Bane is perhaps the best thing about the movie. Here, Hardy shows just how good an actor he is, something that those who saw Bronson already knew. While his ascendance to Hollywood stardom has left him with some fluffy roles as of late, he certainly has plenty of chops to carry this through.

And he does. We see Ivan’s facade slowly crumble. While his voice is even and calm with a Welsh accent adding color to the part, we see in Hardy’s eyes the depth of frustration and doubt that assaults him. Ivan Locke knows what he is doing will have consequences that will be bitter, but even so he insists on trying to apply logic and practicality to a situation that he is painfully unequipped to handle because one thing Ivan Locke doesn’t understand is human emotion. So he drives through the night, downing cold medicine and blowing his nose. This isn’t just business for its own sake as other critics have intimated; Hardy actually had a cold during filming so his illness was written into the script.

When his wife wails “You love your buildings more than me,” she isn’t far from the truth. Ivan waxes rhapsodic about concrete, of stealing a part of the sky for this new tower. When asked why he is doing it, he says “I’m doing it for my building. I’m doing it for the concrete.” Locke, whose childhood was apparently full of instability, relishes the permanence of a well-laid foundation.

This might sound like a boring picture but thanks to some clever cinematography and on the basis of Hardy’s searing performance it is anything but. My wife and I were immersed in the film from beginning to end. Some may look at the manner of storytelling as a gimmick and I have to admit that in most hands it certainly would have turned out that way. Here however thanks to the elements I mentioned the gimmick works and how often can you say that truly?

REASONS TO GO: Mesmerizing performance by Hardy. Compelling story and clever concept.

REASONS TO STAY: Some might find it gimmicky.

FAMILY VALUES:  The language can get pretty raw. The themes are a little bit on the adult side.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Tom Hardy filmed his role in six days. The other actors were all in a hotel room and read their lines over the phone to Hardy.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 5/23/14: Rotten Tomatoes: 88% positive reviews. Metacritic: 82/100.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Margin Call

FINAL RATING: 7.5/10

NEXT: Godzilla